Name me a good boss fight. Go on. Do it now. What’s that, Glados from Portal? Okay, fair take. Shadow of the Colossus you say? Okay I’ll give you that one too. Actually, I’ll admit. There are SOME good boss fights, but really not many. I can count them on one hand, which is a shame, as gaming is absolutely rife with the buggers.
The main problem is the predictability of it all, the cut and paste scenario sees you circlestrafing something large until it falls over and you’re allowed back into the game proper. It’s there to provide a climax to a level, a big struggle that results in a greater sense of success. Repetitive attacks incrementally lowering a screenwide health bar over the course of half an hour doesn’t represent struggle. The feeling that results from defeating this monster isn’t pleasure, it’s relief. Thank goodness that’s over, I can get on with the game.
Glados is an excellent fight because it doesn’t even slightly adhere to these cliches. Firstly, Glados is your guide through the game, a character that treads the line between tutor and antagonist. Glados has a real and direct relationship with the player from the beginning, and the final confrontation is a natural resolution to the story. It’s also a puzzle fight. You use the skills that you’ve been perfecting throughout the game to turn Glados’s attacks agains her. Glados’ monologue plays in the background, her comments veering between naive curiosity, death threats and panic, it’s brilliant drama which is completely engaging. No health bars, no insta-kill attacks or dodge rolls.
There’s only one good place for the typical giganto-boss, and that’s in the MMO. In that context a boss is a great excuse for you to roll in with a bunch of friends and beat the flaming snot out of a dragon. The social experience overcomes the dull predictability of the setup, and with loot and XP gains the rewards are greater. Just please leave them out of our single player games. I don’t ever want to have that Elizabeth Green Time Square fight from Prototype ever again. Not ever.